The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought about many changes in governance and in the government. Some rules became less strict in favor of a more relaxed or streamlined process to fast track the delivery of services. Some officials and individuals exhibited exemplary performance of their functions while others have shown their less than satisfactory competence for their position. Some officials earned the praise and accolade of people while others were bashed without mercy. During one of the press briefings by Sec. Harry Roque a new lineup of “Czars” were introduced to the press and the public. One of them is Mayor Benjamin Magalong of Baguio who was introduced as the “Contact Tracing Czar”. According to the ever reliable internet source Wikipedia, “Czar or Tsar” which originated in Bulgaria, is the designation or title of East and South Slavic monarchs. To our understanding, Mayor Magalong will be leading the contact tracing effort of the entire country to deal with the Covid-19 scourge. Is his appointment or designation as “Contact Tracing Czar” in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government Unit? To put it differently, can an elected or appointed local official be appointed or designated to perform another function or hold another position?
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The Local Government Code provides in Article 94: “No elective or appointive local official shall be eligible for appointment or designation in any capacity to any public office or position during his tenure. Unless otherwise allowed by law or by the primary functions of his position, no elective or appointive local official shall hold any other office or employment in the government or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries.” Article 95 of the same law also states: “No elective or appointive local official or employee shall receive additional, double, or indirect compensation, unless specifically authorized by law..” It is not known whether he will receive additional compensation for his designation but a question was asked on whether his new designation will not compromise his performance of functions as the chief executive of Baguio. The same prohibition appears in the Constitution with regard to the President, Vice-President, cabinet secretaries and their deputies and assistants which was clarified in one petition decided by the Supreme Court. In Betoy vs. NPC (G.R.156556-57, October 4, 2011) the constitutionality of certain provisions of the EPIRA Law ( R.A. 9136) were challenged. The main question is whether the provisions stating that certain cabinet secretaries may sit as members of the board of directors in Transco or in PSALM do not contravene the Constitutional prohibition against the holding of “any other office”?
The SC upheld the constitutionality of the said provisions of the EPIRA Law because the designation is as an “ex officio” and does not constitute “any other office”. Being a member of the board is “automatically attached” to his office. He is not also entitled to any additional compensation because the discharge of his functions in this designation “are already paid for and covered by the compensation attached to his principal office”. The Secretary of Finance for example as an ex-officio member of the Monetary Board is “actually and in legal contemplation performing the primary function of his principal office in defining the policy in monetary and banking matters, which come under the jurisdiction of his department”.
Is it the same with our Contact Tracing Czar? I am not aware though whether there exists any law which allows for such designation even if he is an incumbent local chief executive. I am not also certain if being a “Czar” is related to the “primary functions of his position”? Is it not that local government officials are there to serve in the local level and the national officials serve in the national level also, in furtherance of decentralization? Or perhaps we should not even bother with these legal questions for the sake of our Covid-19 response? O, Covid even our laws fall victim to you.
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